In most DUI cases in Florida, the police officer observes the driver violate some traffic law, conducts a traffic stop and then moves into a DUI investigation from there. There is usually no issue with the state proving the element that the defendant was driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle. However, in DUI cases involving an accident, the police officer normally arrives after the fact and does not observe the defendant driving at all. In these cases, the police need to use other means to establish that the defendant was driving the vehicle or in actual physical control of the vehicle. In many cases, the suspect admits to the police officer that he/she was driving the vehicle, and that could eliminate that particular defense to the DUI charge. Of course, we do not recommend admitting elements of a DUI or any crime to a police officer, but people do it all of the time.
When there is no confession from the driver, the police and the state may try to use other means to prove the defendant was driving the vehicle. If the defendant owns the vehicle and was in the driver’s seat when the police officer arrived, that is some evidence that he/she was driving the vehicle. Sometimes, the other person involved in the crash or other witnesses can testify they saw the defendant driving the vehicle. However, in some cases, there just is not sufficient evidence to prove the defendant was driving the vehicle when the police arrive after the fact, even if it seems obvious from a common sense standpoint.
Additionally, this is only relevant in a DUI case involving an accident. In such cases, the police officer can use other evidence, beyond what he/she personally observed, to prove that the defendant was driving the vehicle. In regular DUI cases without an accident, the police officer needs to actually observe the defendant driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle to proceed with a DUI charge.